Why do you work?

My undergraduate degree is in computer science from Kettering University. Being interested in software, choosing this major was a no-brainer. Kettering was small, and the body of computer science students was even smaller. While we didn’t hug each other, I would say it was a close-knit community. As time goes on, I realize more and more how special computer science is, or at least computer programming is.

Computer science professors have relatively high expectations of student’s initial skills. While programming is taught from scratch, it is introduced very quickly. I actually skipped the first programming course at Kettering, but that was because I previously had two related courses as well as several years dinking around on personal projects with BASIC, C, and Java. I think a large number of the computer science students had programming experience before starting college. Later, in the system programming course, the professor just assumed all of the students knew UNIX!

I am writing this extemporaneously, so I apologize that my thoughts may not be conveyed very well. My point is not that professors have unrealistic expectations. It is actually quite the opposite; professors are correct to assume that students either (1) are already familiar with the technology or (2) have the desire and propensity to learn it on their own. These students write software as a hobby. People program computers for fun — in their spare time! This has always made perfect sense to me, but I am beginning to see how bizarre it really is.

So now I am in MSU’s MBA program, where all students have at least one of the following four concentrations: finance, supply chain, marketing, and human resources. I haven’t met many students who do these things as hobbies. I don’t know any HR students that choose benefits packages or develop corporate staffing policies in their free time. I haven’t met any supply chain students who manage logistics or make purchasing decisions just for fun. The only related hobby I can think of is personal investing, which clearly goes with some aspects of finance. Many of my classmates have been interviewing recently. They are excited about the potential positions, and I am happy for them. However, when I hear about the details of their jobs, I think, “How boring! That doesn’t sound like fun.”

So what makes computer programming different? One possible reason is that it is a creative process. People do many creative activities for fun: painting, writing, photography, or even designing parts for radio-controlled trucks. Another reason is simply that you can do it as a hobby, because all you need is a computer. Developing corporate staffing policies is not a hobby simply because it is virtually impossible for it to be done without a corporation. Investing is not an innately creative activity, but it can easily be done individually on the Internet. I think coaching should fit into this analysis somehow, but I’m not quite sure.

I see a (possibly imaginary) distinction between IT workers with CS degrees vs. MIS degrees. The CS guys are there because they enjoy working with computers and software and have a passion for it. The MIS guys are there because they believe employees with computer skills are highly desired by many corporations today and in the future. Or maybe they were in the first group but didn’t want to deal with the math. As for which group is better suited for the job, I don’t think there is a clear winner. The CS group has a tendency to overlook practicality, and the MIS group has a tendency to miss algorithmic optimizations and other aspects of code quality. Going out further on a limb, the CS group is more likely to work overtime because a technical problem is challenging while the MIS group is more likely to work overtime because the boss is expecting it. Now I realize I am far from actually making a point about anything…..

My point is that most jobs in the MBA world seem to be things that people would never do for fun. If I’m not careful, I will be moving from a something I do for fun (web development) to something not nearly as enjoyable. While I expect to earn more with an MBA, I am not interested in enduring a boring job just for a biggest paycheck.

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